Monday, June 28, 2010

96 Degrees in the Shade

The world does not seem to be lacking an opinion or two on the state of English football, and there is certainly no need for me to add my tuppence worth, but, you know, when did that ever stop me?

I don’t think we should get carried away with the injustice of the “goal”, but nor should we become too hysterical about the manner of the defeat. The non goal changed everything. Had it been allowed to stand, the force and the momentum would most certainly have been with England and we would have gone in at half time full of confidence. We would have gone out for the second half with a different game plan and a different attitude. We may well still have lost, but we may have won, we don’t know what impact the quick reversal of fortune would have had on Germany.

Leaving that aside, it was not a good performance. Until the third goal went in, we appeared to be playing quite well. We were pressing and putting Germany under pressure, but, as soon became apparent, our eagerness to redress the balance left huge gaps at the back. On a day when 3 of the back 4, plus their midfield protector were having an off day, we were inviting trouble. There is a time to go gung ho and we went for it too early, a bit more patience was required. We needed a cool head, but there wasn’t one in the vicinity. We still need a cool head, actually, but such items seem to be in short supply.

There is a truth that is finally being universally acknowledged…………..England are not very good, and we haven’t been very good for a long time. We very rarely do well and even when we do, it seems to be in spite of ourselves. We got to the semi final in 1990, but, you may recall, we were dismal during the group stages and only got through the subsequent knockout games by the smallest of gnats cocks.

Actually, this truth isn’t being universally acknowledged. We continue to be told that individually, these England players are great, and that it is only when they come together to represent England that they become mediocre. We were told before the game that, man for man, England were better, from 1 to 11, and I have even heard people state that this is still the case. This is myopic beyond belief. On what rational basis is this belief formed? It seems to be based on nothing more scientific than that we have heard of our players, but we are only dimly aware, if we are aware at all, of the Germans.

Much was made of the relative youth and inexperience of the German team, but they seem to have adapted to playing with the big boys well enough. I saw them in their first game and was surprised at how well they played; they looked like a really dangerous team, and then they lost their next game and it was all too tempting to think that the outstanding performance was the aberration. They are in fine, devastating form and I would be happy to see them go on and win it now.

The interesting thing is that quite a few of the team were in the Under 21 squad that won their version of the European cup last year, and, I believe, they have been winning major competitions through all the age groups. It looks like the buggers are going to be ahead of the likes of us for year to come.

I had thought it is probably time to get rid of most of the current squad; they have had their chances and they have screwed up, every time, it's time to make way for a younger generation, but who do we replace them with? If we possess a Muller, or an Ozil, or Khadeira, they are keeping themselves well hidden. This world cup condemns not just the current squad, but the whole system. We are not producing good enough players. At the risk of sounding like Chris Waddle, you have to wonder how our system, with all its riches, consistently fails to produce top class players, players who are able to play with a bit of wit and invention.

I have two male nippers. The eldest was never a fanatic, but he liked football well enough and joined a local team when he was 6, and hated it. The training was boring, regimented and mundane. The blokes running it, who I applaud for giving up their time for free, were all registered coaches, and they were all well meaning enough, but they stripped the game of all joy. You would have 30 – 40 kids on a pitch on the side of a mountain, on freezing cold November nights, more or less just hanging around. In 90 minutes of training, they might touch the ball 10 or 12 times. The session would end with a free for all game, with the coaches taking part. Big kids and fast kids prospered, those who were not innately gifted, or big, or aggressive were more or less ignored.

That was about 9 years ago, but I went through the same thing last season with my youngest, with two different clubs. This chap is an absolute football fanatic. He loves the game and he is constantly kicking a ball, and when he isn’t kicking a ball he is reading about kicking a ball, yet two different teams managed to strip away all his enthusiasm. The training was the same as before, and there was little emphasis on practising ball skills, and no emphasis at all on just going out and enjoying yourself and loving the game. He drifted away, just like thousands and thousand of others probably drift away.

Through his hysterical rant ( if you haven’t heard it, consider yourself lucky) Chris Waddle did make some salient points, one of them being that skill is being coached out of young players. He says that the emphasis in academies is all about one and two touch football………….pass and move, pass and move, pass and move. Individual skill, idiosyncrasy is discouraged. We might see this in the case of Joe Cole, who was slagged off by Mourinho for being too much of an individual, and even though he has reined himself in somewhat, he still struggles to get a regular start for either Chelsea or England.

You might think that Waddles doth protest too much, as he represents failed England teams just as much as the current lot but there is truth in what he says. Thinking back to when I was nipper, the English game, if not the English team, always had players with flair, skill and a bit of the devil about them.

Thinking just off the top of my head, I think of players like Stan Bowles, Tony Currie, Keith Weller, Charlie George, Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh, Trevor Francis (minus the devil) Frank Worthington…………er…………..I’m struggling a bit now, until we get to Paul Gascoigne. There will be many others, who I can’t quite remember and more still who didn’t quite touch greatness in the way those I mentioned did. So, England can produce talented players; there is not an innate defect that renders Englishmen incapable of producing football which has the crowd off its feet in anticipation of something wonderful happening.

When I was a nipper, there was a small park on Fox Hollies Road, and, just as would have been the case on countless patches of grass all over the country, there would be dozens of games going on. Straight after school, everyone would head to the park, until it got dark and at weekends the whole day would be spent there. There would be dozens of games going on, usually 15-20 a side, with the proverbial jumpers for goalposts. These are the environments which bred the talents of the mavericks, but you don’t see it anymore.

For whatever reason, kids are not spending all day playing unorganised, but brilliantly exhilarating football. They are joining neighbourhood clubs, where they are learning drills, and where they are learning that the greatest asset a British footballer can possess is strength, closely followed by an ability to shout loudly and lose ones temper, and an ability to follow instructions. You can’t expect these junior coaches to provide in an hour or 90 minutes what kids used to provide for themselves all through the week, but they can be less regimented in their thinking; they can be more tolerant of mistakes; they could encourage kids to love the game.

I shall offer the FA this advice, absolutely free. Tell the junior coaches to throw away their coaching manuals. Tell them to spend their training sessions doing nothing more than organising their players into six a side teams, then throw them a ball and let them play. Just let them play.

Predictably, large section of the media are calling for Capello's head, and the phone in experts are being given all the time and space they need to articulate their brilliantly sophisticated views. Sometimes, (mostly when I listen to 5 live) it feels like I live in a bi polar nation. We seem capable of only two emotions: irrational hope and expectation, or absolute despair. If you express a rational view that history suggests that we aren't very good, you are a traitor: if, once your hypothesis has been proved correct, you suggest that we need not neccessarily open a collective vein, you are complacent. Journalists, phone in nutters, message boarders and bloggers all queue up and vie with each other to out despair one another. Cool heads are in very short supply. No good will come of it. Mark my words.

It’s not all about England though, but I am still waiting for this competition to catch fire. Yesterdays game was one of the better ones, and there’s a thought………..until the 4th went in, I was really enjoying the game; people seem to forget this is a competition, with two highly motivated sets of players, the best in the world, in fact, trying to outdo each other. For all the disappointment, for 70ish minutes I was fully engaged, rapt, and is this not what we want?

The most entertaining bit so far remains the French meltdown. It amused me to see that even after they were eliminated, they still tried to entertain us, with David Ginola threatening to sue Gerard Houllier for comments he made years ago. Thank God we have Maradonna and his touchline operatics to keep us entertained.

Besides which, we have been blessed with the most fantastic weather. Christ, what a halcyon summer this is turning out to be. My world cup vigil has not been as intense as it might have been, because the garden keeps calling me, and I habitually find myself with a cold beer in one hand and a barbecue implement in the other. You can’t be outside, gently melting, getting slowly, blissfully and gently pissed without having a bit of music on, and my preference at such times is for lovely, gentle music, and if you are of a like mind, I recommend the following:

Richard James, formerly of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci has a newish album out “We Went Riding” and it is wonderful, although there are one or two discordant moments on it.

Euros Childs, also formerly a Gorky, put an album called Cheer Gone out a couple of years ago, and it suits the bucolic bliss of a long, sunny afternoon in the garden beautifully.

Gorky’s Barafundle also hits the spot, magnificently, as doe the newish Hindi Zahra. Then there is John Grant, not exactly gentle, but wonderful nonetheless. Once the beer kicks in, I default to a bit of reggae.

Have a spotify playlist: Summer
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